The story of film actress Fearless Nadia becomes no less astonishing with retelling. Briefly: FN, born Mary Ann Evans in Perth, Australia on this day in 1908, grew up in India and performed in circuses before becoming a star of early Indian films, proving a huge Bollywood box office draw. Even more remarkable, her characters were of a type for which there were virtually no precedents in either Indian or Western films of the time – a kick-ass action heroine avenging wrongdoing in violent hand-to-hand combat which fully justified her pseudonym.
A documentary before Nadia’s death in 1996 and a book some years after have sustained ongoing interest in this unlikely pioneer. In her (and my) homeland a 2008 musical was followed by an unusual tribute last year, when she became the posthumous figurehead for a series of papers commenting on relations between India and Australia.
Thankfully more of Fearless Nadia’s film work is now available online. The three videos below range from 1936 to 1943, though the first is largely devoted to a haunting ghazal. These postings are clearly the work of a fan so I’m sure we can forgive his excessive watermarking which obscure the already compromised sound and vision of these precious fragments.
Even without understanding the dialogue it is clear that Fearless Nadia was unafraid to speak truth to power (or thump seven shades of shit out of power and send it crying to its mama). Nadia’s armoury variously includes a wheelbarrow, wagon wheel, her signature whip as well as the more conventional sword and gun.